By Will Reisman, @WillReisman
Featuring historic neighborhoods, tourist attractions, cultural institutions, huge swaths of pristine open spaces and all sorts of famous landmarks, San Francisco is a city that contradicts the old Ralph Waldo Emerson quote about life being a journey, not a destination. For many, San Francisco is the destination—who cares about the journey getting there?
Still, you have to make it to the city somehow. For the Discovery Charter School, a K-8 school based in Campbell, Caltrain—along with other public transit options—makes the most sense for moving 81 eighth-graders for a field trip from the South Bay to San Francisco.
The charter school, which frequently embarks on excursions throughout the Bay Area and beyond, travelled on Caltrain on January 20 to kick off a four-day field trip to San Francisco. The visit—dubbed by the school as the Art, Culture, History and Stewardship Tour of San Francisco—included trips to Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, the Presidio, and the Mission District, and relied heavily on the public transportation systems of the Bay Area.
“Not only is it the most cost-effective way of traveling, it’s also the most pragmatic,” said Chris Heumann, one of three teachers accompanying the students on the trip. “We can’t move 81 kids in our cars to San Francisco—that’s just not realistic. Public transit makes the most sense.”
Heumann said the eighth-graders essentially planned the trip to San Francisco, picking out spots that typically fly under the radar for most visitors (they wanted to make sure it wasn’t touristy.) The teachers reviewed the choices, to make sure there was some education value to each element before signing off on the choices. Heumann said that travelling on public transit played a big role in how the trip was planned.
“We wanted to teach them some self-reliance by using their local public transit systems,” said Heumann. “And we also wanted to erase some of the stigma about using the bus or the train. We wanted to show that all different kinds of people use these systems every day.”
The group started its journey by taking VTA’s light-rail system to the San Jose Diridon Caltrain Station, where they boarded the #329 Baby Bullet train to San Francisco. Many of the students had taken Caltrain before, but for some, the trip was a new experience.
“This is my first time on Caltrain,” said Olivia Catalano, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, as she rode the Baby Bullet up to San Francisco. “So far, it’s been good—a little crowded, but pretty neat.”
As passengers on one of the busiest Caltrain lines, the students witnessed first-hand the capacity issues facing the rail agency. Although it was a tight squeeze for some, many of the students, teachers and chaperones were able to eventually find a seat.
“I’m actually pretty passionate about public transit,” said Heumann. “Using Caltrain and VTA and Muni is an important learning experience for these kids.”